Leading academic Misty says being an authentic teacher and stepping away from the same structures can spark high school students who are losing the motivation to write.
Misty is a leader in the literacy research and practice field who believes that a lack of motivation to write is one of the many literacy challenges facing high school students.
She joined The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy podcast to explain how secondary students can regain their passion for writing, which starts with teachers rediscovering their authenticity and excitement.
“Revel in the joy of written communication in the disciplines because then the kids will be joyful about writing. They’ll become more skilful in their writing because of their engagement with authentic texts and with teachers who are generally excited about the texts they’re using with kids,” Misty said.
“It’s a crying shame if kids think that writing is boring. And that’s on us. We did that because there is nothing intrinsically boring about writing. It is the most fabulous human invention. It’s a wondrous invention.”
So how can this be reversed? For Misty, a huge step is to eliminate the same repetitive structures and templates within writing and instead focus on variety and purpose.
“I think teachers, thanks to publishers, usually get hung up on the structure. The theory behind genres was actually about how the writing changes according to the purpose, but it seems we all interpreted it as there are structures and every genre has a structure, but that’s not what it’s about,” she explained.
“So instead, we need to think about the purpose of the writing, and that’s likely going to influence not just the text structures that you choose, but also the sentence structures, the way you organise your paragraphs and the words you choose.
“You know, narratives are not just orientations, complications and resolutions. They have all sorts of complicated structures … and with persuasive writing, we’ve got kids still in year 9 doing the same ‘in my opinion, firstly, secondly, thirdly, in conclusion’ – but there’s more than one way to write a persuasive piece!
“So we’ve been kind of beguiled by the structure and we do nothing else … and there goes your motivation.”
By bringing in a wide variety of ‘beautiful literature’, students can regain their creativity and enthusiasm for writing.
“We’ve got so many examples of ways to write in beautiful rich literature and in nonfiction as well. So find something that fulfils purpose, then go and examine its structure and then you’ll find there’s a whole world out there. And then writing becomes an exciting adventure,” Misty said.
“So we can bring that enthusiasm back if we become the authentic teacher where we are in control of what we’re teaching the children, not necessarily following the publisher. I’m sure publishers have got great intentions, but that tends to lock us into certain things.
“And in the secondary sector, I think it brings the joy back not just for the kids, but for secondary teachers to kind of revel again in the thing that they loved in the first place.”
It’s also important for different disciplines in high school to mould their writing towards their own subject, rather than following the requirements of standardised testing like the NAPLAN in Australia.
“For every discipline, I think there’s such joy ahead for the secondary teachers to approach this idea of being responsible for the language of their discipline and to kind of take off this burden that we’ve put upon them that somehow they’re responsible for the english of the kids,” Misty said.
“Because I’ve walked into schools where all teachers have been told to work persuasive writing into their assessment pieces. So the tech and science teachers are trying to get persuasive writing in there. Now persuasive decisive writing may well be a component, but they’re all being asked to do this kind of NAPLAN prep where they need a statement of the thesis, first argument, second argument etc. So they’re given all of these english strategies to use and it doesn’t feel authentic.
“But discipline teachers can do fantastic work by staying inside their discipline. It’s more authentic for the kids and for the teachers. It gives you much more motivation as a teacher to kind of sit down and examine how language is working in your discipline. It makes much more sense to you because it doesn’t take up all of your content teaching time. It slots in naturally with your content teaching time.”
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